Part4: Sumerian Narrative Texts in the Eridu tradition (gilgy02.html)
Just a reminder: Scholars divide the ANE literature into Sumerian (earlier) and Akkadian (subsequent) bodies of literature. The Sumerian traditions are further divided into Nippur and Eridu traditions, loosely based around the cities of the same names. Clifford points out that we don't have any stand-alone cosmogonies in this material:
“No ex professo Sumerian treatise on how the world began has yet been found. Descriptions and allusions to creation are found in god lists, introductions to rituals and prayers, and myths. Altogether, the texts do not yield a standard cosmogony. Ancient Near Easterners apparently did not expect a single coherent account, tolerating instead different versions of the beginning of the world.” [OT:CAANEB, 15]
This doesn't rule this material out, of course, since the cosmogonies in Genesis 1 and 2 are not stand-alone either--they are preamble and background to the Flood, Rise of Humanity, and Rise of the Patriarchs. But the 'no standard cosmogony' comment should bother us a little, because it complicates matters of comparison considerably. For example, if one Sumerian story ("Story A") has X in common with Genesis, but all the other Sumerian stories ("B, C, D, E") do NOT have the X component, then to assert that the biblical writer borrowed from Story A--while ignoring/rejecting Stories B through E--raises many more questions about the alleged borrowing. For example, if one assumes that borrowing is done because something was the "commonly accepted Sumerian heritage" (a common assertion of the Maximalists), then one has to explain why this "commonly accepted Sumerian heritage" was rejected by the other Stories...See what I mean?
With this in mind (and we will return to this later), let's look at the major cosmogonic-related texts of the Eridu tradition.
Clifford offers several texts, of various genres, which contain cosmogonic material. Let's look at each one for relevant material, and compare them with the Bible and with each other.
There are five major texts here:
"In the five extant major cosmogonies of the Eridu tradition, Enki the spring water fertilized earth by means of rivers and canals, causing life (including human life and cities) to rise along their banks...The five myths with Enki as creator are: Enki and the World Order, Enki and Ninhursag (the Dilmun Myth), the introduction to the disputation Bird and Fish, Enki and Ninmah, and the Sumerian Flood Story. Unlike the single-act cosmic marriage of the Nippur tradition, the Eridu cosmogonic traditions are included within extended narratives in which Enki's actual creating comprises only one part." [OT:CAANEB, 32,33]
We have already examined Enki and Ninhursag (the Dilmun Myth) in Part 2: Methodological issues (gilgy00.html), so this piece will focus on the other four.
One. Enki and the World Order.
This "consists of a hymnic section and two narrative sections". The hymnic section and the second narrative section make no cosmogonic references.
The first narrative section actually is only 'semi-cosmogonic', in that it is more about fertilization of existing land than about creation and organization. Clifford describes this section, giving an excerpt:
“In the first narrative section, Enki travels to several places and blesses them—Nippur, Ur, Meluhha, Dilmun. He then imparts fertility to the fields by inseminating the Tigris and Euphrates with water from beneath the earth; the rivers will bring that water to the fields. Enki is spring water and so creates through life-giving rivers.
he cast his eyes from that spot,
After father Enki had lifted it over the Euphrates
He stood up proudly like a rampant bull,
He lifts the penis, ejaculates,
Filled the Tigris with sparkling water.
The Tigris surrendered to him, as to a rampant bull.
He lifted the penis, brought the bridal gift,
Brought joy to the Tigris…"
Creation is through providing water essential for life. In the temporal perspective of the text, all forms of life (including human life) are in existence before the insemination.” [OT:CAANEB, 34,35)
Apart from the obvious discontinuity between Genesis 1-2 and Enki's 'public and proud' masturbation (!!!), the fact that the world (including major cities) is already fully in existence and highly organized pretty much rules this out from being a cosmogonic text at all. There isn't even a single post-Genesis-creation event in the Bible to correspond to some 'fertilization' act. [God pronounces blessing at the original, pre-city point of creation--'be fruitful and multiply'--and again after the judgment of the Flood He blesses Noah, but there's nothing about rivers, cities, etc.] So, this isn't even a candidate for borrowing.
Two. Cosmogonic introduction to Bird and Fish.
As we had seen with the Nippur tradition, the genre of Disputation often had a cosmogonic introduction, to set the context for the disputants. This disputation is no exception. Here is the cosmogonic introduction from [TCS1, 1.182, Vanstiphout] and Kramer, From the Poetry of Sumer (as cited in OT:CAANEB):
(1) [In long gone, far off days], after the
kind fate had been decreed,
(1) After, in primeval
days, a kindly fate had been decreed,
This, again, is questionable as to its real cosmogonic content:
Heaven and Earth seem already created and 'ordered' by verse 2.
But the collection of the waters (assuming this refers to something like the formation of the seas, creating dry land) is AFTER that.
The Tigris and Euphrates are watered by mountain down-flow and not by some 'subterranean stream'.
Verse 15 has living creatures being given to humans for food, but this is not allowed in the biblical account until AFTER the Flood.
Most of this passage is about Enki's (a) irrigation work; and (b) 'wetlands projects'--not even close to the lush, orchard setting of Genesis 1-2.
No mention of the actual creation of man and woman.
So, this doesn't' seem to have much cosmogonic content, and accordingly would not be a plausible source-of-borrowing for the hugely dissimilar Genesis 1-2.
Three. Enki and Ninmah.
Here is part of Jacob Klein's intro in [TCS1, 1.159]:
"This archaic and still partly incomprehensible myth praises Enki, the god of the subterranean fresh waters, wisdom and magic, for having planned and directed the creation of mankind and for having devised ways in which the physically handicapped could adjust to society. The myth seems to consist of two originally independent stories. The first part tells the story of the creation of man rather briefly (lines 1–43). Man was created from pieces of clay, placed in the womb of the mother-goddesses where he obtained his form and was given birth. He was created for the purpose of relieving the gods from their hard labor, and especially from digging canals for irrigation agriculture. The second part (lines 44–139) tells of a contest between the mother-goddess Ninmah and Enki during a feast celebrating man’s creation. At first Ninmah creates a number of crippled and handicapped human beings, challenging Enki to solve their problem. Enki cleverly “decrees their fate,” assigning them a function in society whereby they earn their living in an honorable way. When Ninmah gives up, it is Enki’s turn to create an abnormal creature. Enki creates a human wreck, whose nature cannot be precisely determined (either an aborted fetus or an old man), and with which Ninmah is unable to cope. The end of the second part is damaged and obscure, but it is clear that Enki prevails over Ninmah in the contest. The myth concludes with the following statement (lines 140–141): “Ninmah did not equal the great lord Enki/ Father Enki, your praise is sweet.”
For our purposes here, the only important section is verses 1-43 (dealing with the creation of man). I'll give three translations: Klein [TCS1], Kramer (as cited in Clifford, [OT:CAANEB]), and Jacobsen [OT:THTO].
In those days, in the days when heaven and earth
“In those days once heaven and earth [were
In days of yore, the days when heaven and earth
had been [fashioned]
A lot of this text is poorly understood, and this is especially frustrating for the most important versus of 35-43. Here is Jacobsen's summary:
"The first of these stories tells how in the beginning the gods had to farm for their food themselves. The hard work of cleaning rivers and canals weighed heavily on them and put them in a rebellious mood, so that they blamed Enki and, in the periods of rest from work at noon and in the evening, wantonly destroyed what they had just accomplished...Enki's mother, Namma, brought their distress to her son's notice and suggested that he devise a substitute for the gods who could take over their toil and so relieve them. Enki pondered the problem and was reminded of how he himself was engendered by "the fathering clay from the Apsu," that is to say the clay of the vast body of fresh water which the ancients thought underlay the earth, what we should call the water level. Accordingly he asked his mother to give birth to man from it, and she readily complied. After she had moistened the clay to its core, the ovary goddesses made the fetus grow big and solid, whereupon Namma put limbs on it and determined what it would be like. Finally she gave birth, attended by the goddess Ninmah as midwife and a group of minor goddesses as birth helpers. Thus, without any male being involved, man came into being and was born." [OT:THTO, 151]
Here is the biblical passage that is reputedly 'derivative' from it (Gen 2.7):
"[T]hen the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being."
So, let's list the specific parallels first, before noting the differences...[I'm waiting...]...Oops--there are none... even the material used (which probably prompts the connection of these passages) is different: "clay" is not "dust":
"Verses 4b-7 are one long sentence in Hebrew, containing a protasis (v. 4b), a series of circumstantial clauses (vv. 5-6), and an apodosis (v. 7). This apodosis informs us that God the craftsman formed man from the dust of the ground. The Hebrew uses assonance here: God formed haadam ... min-ha'adamd. It is hard to capture this play on sounds in English, but it is something like "God formed earthling from the earth." The verb for crafted is Heb. yasar which on several occasions explicitly describes the vocation or work of a potter (2 Sam. 17:28; Isa. 29:16; Jer. 18:2, 3, 4, 11), especially when used in participial form (yoser). "Potter," however, is a suitable translation only when the context clearly points to the fact that the work of formation being described is that of a potter. For example, the verb is used in Isa. 44:12 to describe the work of an ironsmith on metals, and hence the verb would carry a meaning like "forge." A potter, of course, works with mud or clay (homer), not dust (apar) And for instances of yasar ("to do the work of a potter") with clay (homer) compare Isa 41:25 and Jer. 18:4, 6. (Job 33:6 has Elihu saying that he was formed from clay, but "form" in this instance is qaras Similarly Job reminds God that he has made him [asa] of clay [10:9].) It is taking too much liberty with Heb. 'apar to render it "mud" or "clay" so that yasar in v. 7 may carry the force of "do the work of a potter." There are, to be sure, instances where homer is used in parallelism with 'apar (Job 4:19; 10:9. 27:16; 30:19), but such parallelism argues at best for overlap in meaning rather than identity in meaning." [NICOT, in loc; TN: The bible DOES refer to humans being made of clay elsewhere (e.g. Job), but not anywhere in the Pentateuch!]
So, even the 'visceral' point of contact doesn't actually exist...
But the radical differences are overwhelming by far, and it is difficult in the extreme (once again) to visualize a Hebrew using this text/backdrop for this one verse in Genesis. Consider:
The God Enki was made out of the same clay as the man!
Man was actually only 'formed a little', before being implanted into the goddess. She took it from there and gave birth.
The initial human was apparently a baby, needing wool swathing.
The whole story about the whining gods, and inter-divinity marriage and pregnancies is just too alien (and repulsive) to the thought of the writer of Genesis. There is no motive to pull out one 'generic act' (God creates man--it could hardly be otherwise, remember?!) at the risk of some audience 'remembering' the original piece, and then 'swinging out polytheistically'...
The picture of the earth already being made, and being cultivated and irrigated and farmed by countless deities--indicates that we do not actually have a cosmogony here anyway. We have an anthropogony, and one without any points of continuity with that of Genesis.
We might also note--along the lines of "if they could read it, they would not use it"--that the piece was possibly a satire anyway!:
"The satirical Enki and Ninmah describes Enki's forming man from clay." [OT:CAANEB, 34]
So, there are major problems with seeing this as a source for the author of Genesis, and there are no obvious points of similarity to suggest otherwise.
Pushback: "Glenn, I think you are missing the point here. The point of similarity might not be the 'from clay' thing (even though that shows up in a lot of claims/writings). Rather, it might be, as Lambert suggested, the point of 'rest for the gods' as the driving force for the creation of man. He specifically suggests this:
"The essentials of the story [expressed well in E and N] are that the gods had to toil for their daily bread, and in response to urgent complaints man was created to serve the gods by providing them with food and drink. On the last point all the Mesopotamian accounts agree: man existed solely to serve the gods, and this was expressed practically in that all major deities at least had two meals set up before their statues each day. Accordingly, man's creation resulted in the god's' resting, and the myths reach a climax at this point...This common Mesopotamian tradition thus provides a close parallel to the sixth and seventh days of creation. Since the particular concept of the destiny of man goes back to the Sumerians, but is unparalleled in other parts of the ancient Near east, ultimate borrowing by the Hebrews seems very probable." [ISI:107]
"I'm glad you asked that question"
It seems to me that Lambert is being forced to this conclusion by two of his questionable premises. He had stated earlier in that article the following:
"On this assumption the use of the week as the framework of a creation account is understandable as providing divine sanction for the institution, but unexpected in that God's resting hardly expresses the unlimited might and power that are His usual attributes: "See, Israel's guardian neither slumbers nor sleeps," [ISI:106]
Lambert has somehow understood the 'resting' (English) of Genesis as being the 'needing rest' of the Sumerian deities! The Genesis passage doesn't really allow this connection--"rest" simply means "cease working" (there is a separate word for 'rest', nucha), and the affirmation is essentially a re-statement of the first part of the verse "God finished His (creation) work":
"He ceased. This is the primary meaning of sh-b-t; the idea of resting is secondary." [Sarna, JPS Genesis. He documents this in his footnote, citing as examples of "ceasing, without notion of needing to rest" verses Gen 8.22; Ex 34.21; Josh 5.12; Isa 14.4; 24.8; 33.8; Jer 31.36(35); Job 32.1; Lam 5.15. He then says "The development from 'ceasing' to 'resting' can be traced in Exod 23:12; 31:17, so that in Exod 20:11, the verb 'to rest' may replace 'to cease'". Compare the Stone Edition Taanach: "He abstained from His working",]
The second assumption is that Genesis had to be borrowing (!), since all cosmogonies were 'borrowings':
"The authors of ancient cosmologies were essentially compilers. Their originality was expressed in new combinations of old themes, and in new twists to old ideas. Sheer invention was not part of their craft. Thus when the [Genesis] author tells us that God rested, I believe he drew on a tradition to this effect. Therefore in seeking parallels to the seventh day, one must look not only for comparable institutions, but also for the ideas of deities resting...Here Mesopotamia does not fail us." [ISI:106f]
Apart from the obvious question-begging this is dangerously close to, it is just too simplistic a generalization. Whereas many cosmogonies seemed to borrow (and transform) other traditions, this view cannot account for the origination of the genre itself, the expansion of the genre to include new elements (e.g. literary expansion, new plots, implicit-become-explicit, additional explanations, more secondary causes [OT:CAANEB, 53, 55, 71, passim], the huge amount of absolutely unique detail (e.g. obscure one-mention-only gods, places, characters) and the large-scale non-uniformity of these accounts (as already noted--"not one view of creation"). And, as soon as some details slip through the 'it had to be non-original' net, then it remains open as to where the data came from.
But its more than just these assumptions that are highly questionable--the very data seems to not fit this perspective either.
One. There is such a massive theological and literary difference between the resting of the Genesis God and the resting of the Sumerian deities and sub-deities. The work of God in Genesis is portrayed as effortless, by sheer act of speaking, of absolute perfection, of unaided success of artistry. The work of the deities in Sumerian tales is toilsome, unliked, harsh, and deals with digging, farming, irrigating, baking, and feeding their faces...They SHOULD be tired from that kind of labor (smile). They cease (and get to rest their poor tired divine bodies--smile) when somebody else takes over the work of meeting their material (and often, desperate) needs. Millard draws out the contrast (which, btw, applies even if 'rest' is taken as 'resting' a la Lambert):
"In Babylonian tradition (including Sumerian, of course) the creation of man relieved the gods of the need to work; they entered a new era of rest. In Genesis god rested after His creation was complete. The actions are very similar, the context are quite different. The Hebrew god needed not to labour for His sustenance, nor did He tire of His work. The Babylonian gods, on the other hand, were 'like a man,' toiling and wearying, needing help in the business of keeping alive. Wholly different theologies underlie these ideas." [ISI:126]
Is there any contrast greater than this? Castellino notes: "It is here that one notices one of the really vivid differences between Genesis and the Sumero-Babylonian myths. The spiritual and monotheistic conception of God (the anthropomorphisms should not deceive us) could not permit the notion that God had need of material help from humanity" [ISI:91; One is reminded of God's address to Israel in Ps 50:12--"If I were hungry, I would not tell you; for the world is Mine and all it contains."]
Two: So different is God's work in Genesis and in Sumerian accounts that in Genesis provides food for humanity, instead of creating humanity to feed Him!!!
Three: Then, let's ask the 'if they understood it, would they use it?' question again. Compared to the God of Genesis, the gods (who need rest--the alleged point of contact) of the Enki and Ninmah story are really pathetic creatures. Would the author of Genesis really want to risk some association of Yahweh with these weak and weary, fatigued and subsistence-living, rest-needing deities? No--it makes no real sense--if the author knew enough about the stories/traditions (which is what the borrowing theories are based on). Something is just missing here.
Once again, we net out with this: we don't find a single point of significant similarity, much less one that argues convincingly for 'borrowing'.
So, let's move to the next one...
Four. The Sumerian Flood Story.
Although this is listed by Clifford (OT:CAANEB) and Jacobsen (TCS1, OT:THTO)--who calls it the "Eridu Genesis"-- as being cosmogonic, the presumably relevant section of the work (verses 1-36) are missing and have to be supplied from LATER works. The piece is largely about the Flood and such, and so, accordingly, there's nothing here to discuss relative to Genesis 1-2.
Five. KAR 4.
This is an odd text, a mixture of Sumerian and Akkadian, which is 'unparalleled' (according to Clifford) in its story [tn: notice the degree of originality implied by this!]. It combines elements from the Nippur and Eridu traditions, and is quite possibly much later. But it has an unique element--the creation of humans from the blood of slain deities.
Here are the relevant sections of the text [OT:CAANEB, 50-51]:
heaven had been separated from Earth—hitherto they were joined
“Then An, Enlil, Ninmah (correction) and Enki, the chief gods,
With the other great gods, the Anunna,
Took their place on the high dais,
And held an assembly.
(10) As they had already established the plan of the universe,
And with the intention of preparing the irrigation system
That was determined by the course of the Tigris and Euphrates,
<Enlil asked them,> “And now what are we going to do?
What are we going to make now?
(15) What are we going to create?
And the great gods who were present there,
With the Anunna who assign destinies,
Responded in chorus to Enlil:
“In the ‘Flesh-Growing Place’ of Duranki (Nippur),
We are going to slay two divine Alla (NAGAR, reading uncertain),
(20) And from their blood give birth to human beings!
The corvee of the gods will be their corvee:
They will fix the boundaries of the fields once and for all,
And take in their hands hoes and baskets,
To benefit the House of the great Gods,
Worthy seat of their high Dais!
They will add plot to plot;
(25) They will fix the boundaries of the fields once and for all.
They will install the irrigation system
To provide water everywhere
And thus make all kinds of plants grow.
They will be named Ullegarra and Annegarra [=first humans].
(40) And they will multiply, for the prosperity of the land,
Cattle, sheep, (other) animals, fish and birds.”
Even though this is cosmogonic, one can
see immediately that there are no significant parallels to the
Genesis story. The anthropogony (i.e.,
creating man from the blood of slain gods) would have been
meaningless to Hebrews (real gods don't die), and without
precedent in Sumerian cosmogony (contra Lambert?). The
closest we come to a similarity in this is the 'separation' of heaven
from earth, which we have dealt with earlier. Nothing here
Okay, where does this leave us?
I quote from the previous piece:
"This is an easy summary: there are no parallels of any substance, and there are TONS of anti-parallels, contradictions, and gross variances. This literature (unlike some other literature we will look at later) just is either too distant from the biblical document in tone, intent, themes, particulars, and sequences; or it is subject to the 'if they could read it, they would probably not use it' response.
[Note, by the way--and this will be important when we look at Tigay's methodological objection--that the issue here is not "a few strong parallels, overshadowed by massive differences" but rather "NO parallels at all, as well as massive differences". We don't have any "pro" data here to have to balance against the "con" data. This is important to understand, for this situation will show up in very important cases later.]"
On to the next...(gilgy03.html),
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